Nuba people called "central" to Sudan peace process

By Kelly Machinchick, Washington File Staff Writer
Washington - The tenuous pause in the Sudanese Civil War has the potential to grow into a lasting peace, but the needs and wishes of the Nuba people must be considered, said a panel at the Woodrow Wilson Center on Friday, February 28, or the peace will not endure.

The panel, entitled "The Sudanese War and the Nuba People," featured presentations by Michael Ranneberger, State Department special advisor for Sudan and John Prendergast, former Africa director at the National Security Council and currently co-director of the Africa branch of the International Crisis Group, an international non-governmental organization (NGO) working to prevent and resolve conflict.

Former chairman of the House Africa Subcommittee and Wilson Fellow Howard Wolpe, in introducing Suleiman Rahhal, an advocate of the Nuba people, set the stage by explaining, "The Nuba people are among the most downtrodden and invisible people in the world today," who have rights and demands that must be addressed if real peace can be restored.

"A workable peace has never been built on injustice," said Rahhal.

"The people of the Nuba Mountains," he said, "demand the right to self-determination. The issue of the Nuba Mountains and other marginalized areas in Northern Sudan should be within the framework of the Machakos Protocol and representatives from the Nuba political parties and civil service should be invited to speak at peace talks in Kenya to argue their case."

"During the six-year transition period," he continued, "the Nuba Mountains should be a separate region, independent from both South and North. They should be represented in the broad national government that will take over when peace is agreed upon. The Nuba cease-fire agreement, which has been renewed twice, should now be transformed into a comprehensive peace settlement of the Nuba issue. The international community should be involved in the program of resettlement and the reconstruction of the Nuba government in the region."

Ranneberger and Prendergast agreed that the Nuba region and its people were central to any peace agreement. "That's precisely why Senator [John] Danforth [Special U.S. Envoy for Sudan] made that the major test for peace," said Ranneberger. "I think this test has raised some hope in Sudan." It has, he said, proved that a lasting peace was possible.

Ranneberger congratulated the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and Kenyan Lt. Gen. Lazarus Sumbeiywo for the work they have done to further the peace process. "We have confidence in his ability to handle the discussion of the three areas," he said.

But Ranneberger asserted that a comprehensive peace must include all of the disputed areas: the Nuba Mountains, the Southern Blue Nile, and Abyei.

"You can't simply have a formula that is a Sudan-wide formula that doesn't take into account the special circumstances of those areas," he continued. "We have made very clear that it is for the parties themselves to work out. Whatever they work out that is [mutually] acceptable, we will accept. We haven't ruled out anything, we haven't ruled in anything. All issues are on the table."

Ranneberger said he thought that the Nuba people, as well as the Sudanese people, have accepted the principle that they jointly must come up with a solution that encourages unity. Although one day there might be the option for self-determination for the people of southern Sudan, the leaders of the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) have worked to bring about a cease-fire and settlement agreement that brings about unity and equality for the Sudanese people, said Ranneberger.

According to Prendergast, the Nuba people, although seeking a seat at the table to become part of a unified Sudan, continue to take precautions against more government lies and brutality. "The Nuba have learned their lesson; the government has a terrible track record with all the constituencies there," he said, speaking of human rights violations over the last two decades. "They see the self-determination instrument as their insurance against government tendencies to violate these agreements."

Prendergast continued: "A consensus has emerged, I think. They [the Nuba] see an opportunity in the current peace process to finally claim some basic entitlements that have historically been denied to the Nuba people. These Nuba leaders demand that there be self-rule for their region."

At a minimum, that self-rule would include the right of the people to choose their own leadership within the existing government or whatever federal framework that might be set up during the transition period, once peace is finally established, Prendergast said.

After that, he said, if Southerners do opt for independence, the Nuba should be allowed to choose which part of the country they want to join. In addition, the Nuba will want international supervision to ensure that these measures are respected.

Again, Prendergast warned, the warring parties must take the Nuba demands into account if a peace is to be established. Peace is a possibility, but all aspects of the conflict must be considered and issues that have predicated twenty years of war must be resolved.

Thus far the cease-fire has held, Ranneberger concluded, but "it is certainly too soon to say that a sense of normalcy has returned to the area, given what these people [the Nuba] have been through. There is a hope that has been rekindled, and it's something we need to nourish," he concluded.

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